Friday marks the return of King Khan's fiery melding of punk and soul at the Echo
“I’m touring my favorite murder capitols of America,” garage soul icon King Khan jokes about his current U.S. tour, which thus far has encompassed a week in New Orleans, two shows in Chicago and upcoming gigs in Oakland and Los Angeles, where he’ll land Friday night at the Echo.
He recently garnered copious attention for displaying his unclothed posterior to Lindsay Lohan at Cannes, but his punk rock pedigree stretches back more than a decade to scrappy garage acts inhabiting scabies-infested crash pads in in his native Canada. His recent rise as the crazed frontman for garage-soul dance sensation King Khan and the Shrines has proved that he can transcend fire and fury to reach a broader audience.
After suffering a nervous breakdown last year (fueled by the sudden demise of his longtime musical partnership with Mark Sultan and a one-two punch of the fabled rock 'n’ roll lifestyle plus years of heavy touring), he took a year off to collect himself. “It’s like a fireball,” he said of the crisis. “You keep going and it gets bigger and bigger and suddenly I realized it was killing me, and I also realized I missed my family.”
The father of two, who has called Germany home since 1999, slowed down and smelled the roses. “I got to finally be with my kids and not be a stress machine,” he said of the break. He produced a couple of albums at his Berlin-based recording studio (including a forthcoming collaboration with operatic Russian folk singer Mary Ocher, whom he describes as “a mix of Kate Bush, Kim Fowley and Buffy Sainte-Marie”), hosted rooftop barbecues with friends and neighbors, and emerged feeling as if he had a new lease on life.
“I feel better than I ever have,” he said, although he is quick to point out that although he may have tamed his personal demons, his live act is still as wild as ever. “I still like to dance and have fun. I just know when to stop now.”
On his current tour, Khan is backed by legendary Oakland psychedelic act the Gris Gris, although the shows are more of a musical collaboration, according to the magnanimous Khan. Of the band’s frontman, Greg Ashley, he said: “He’s one of the greatest songwriters of our generation, so it’s an honor for me to help him spread his music to a different crowd. We basically do half and half: Gris Gris songs, and then a bunch of psychedelic songs and some punk stuff I’ve never done with any other band.”
With a stage persona that melds the brashness of punk with the emotion of soul, and a sartorial flair that combines the voodoo weirdness of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins with the gonzo flagrancy of John Waters, King Khan easily navigates the murky waters of various dueling genres. He’s shared stages with punk rock superstars the Black Lips and with R&B legends such as Andre Williams and Gino Washington.
The genres, he asserted, are not mutually exclusive. “For me, the idea of soul is a quality of music. For example, if you listen to the Germs, the way Darby Crash sings –- he exerts so much of his true blood and tears and sweat that his soul comes out. For me, Hank Williams has soul. And James Brown -– his scream is the one that inspired Roky Erickson to start music. Some people have it and some people don’t. Punk and soul is the same thing. It’s the same rebellion. It’s against mediocrity and it has the same appreciation for madness and being able to turn hate into love, which is the ultimate healing power you could have. All the angst, if you can transform that into a scream and a melodic thing that makes people want to laugh or cry or dance and punch themselves in the face, it’s all the same blood.”
Besides his current tour, the rejuvenated King Khan has a lot of irons in the fire. A new record with the Shrines is nearly completed, and he’ll be recording new songs with the Gris Gris next week as well as taping what he jokingly called a "revolutionary" YouTube cooking show that will feature guest appearances by ex-Black Panther and barbecue cookbook author Bobby Seale and San Francisco punk icon Jello Biafra.
He also plans on recording a country album with Jeff Clarke, frontman for Canadian country-punk act Demon’s Claws, and Sean Wood, guitarist for costume-wearing Seattle punk band the Spits. The album will come to fruition only if the act can raise Wood’s fare to Germany via its amusing Kickstarter project (a pledge of $20 wins a personal thank-you call from a member of the band, while a $100 pledge will result in “a custom country song with YOUR name in it”).
“I love being a country gentleman onstage,” Khan said. “You don’t have to scream and go crazy, and there’s this really nice vocal timbre. It’s going to be a good change for us to be that way. But I also know that if you put the three of us together in a room, it’s also dangerous. So there'll be that element too.”
-- Jason Gelt
King Khan & the Gris Gris with the Cosmonauts and the Dead Ship at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd. Friday, 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $14 at the door.
Photo: King Khan. Credit: Megan Cullen.